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It's Easy Being 'Green' or is it?

Date: 26 May 2008 :: By: Shadowgirlau

Every little bit helps when it comes to fighting global warming or so the Health & Wellbeing mag that I was reading just this week would have one believe. Now here is the but – how serious is everyone about their ecological foot prints though? Why do I ask? Well I ask because after almost every fact regarding a green issue, there followed and ad to buy this or buy that and you will be greener. One could be forgiven then for thinking that being green is more about commercialism than it is about our changing environment.

Okay maybe I am a pessimist then as after all every little bit counts when it comes to fighting global warming even if it does cost quite a bit extra to save our planet.

The United Nations World Environment Day is on the 5th June and is the perfect opportunity to be part of the global movement to “green” up one’s life. After all it is the way people live their lives that really makes the most difference, to the state of our planet.
Here is a little fact for you all – According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, elec5tricity consumption is the largest single cause of greenhouse pollution with 90% sourced from “dirty” fuel such as coal. Short of eating raw food and reverting back to candles or sitting in the dark each night there is something you can do to offset your carbon footprint and reduce your energy use. Great! It is costly and it involves buying car5bon credits from an accredited company who contributes to projects such as planting trees that help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Well that is wonderful but who really benefits? After all we are still using dirty fuel and under our governments current policies this doesn’t look set to change anytime soon.
You can’t have helped but notice that there has been a lot of talk lately about how we are using up the world’s resource’s too quickly because nearly every day there is a news story about the rising cost of fuel, oil prices, global warming, dwindling fish stocks, growing waste mountains, water shortages, pressure on the country to build more houses, dwindling forests, dwindling farmland and famine, drought (in our own country) and other poorer countries. The onslaught is becoming an avalanche.
Some scientists have concluded that to continue as we are, the world would need the resources of three planets so this means that to put it simply, we cannot keep up this rate of consumption. The footprint we leave on the planet (the impact each one of us makes on the earth’s resources) is getting larger and larger. And with the growth in the global human population, projected to be as much as 9 billion people by 2050, we face daunting futures if we don’t address the situation now. If we carry on as we are there just won’t be enough to go around.
The scale of our problems is becoming horrific with our rising standard of living and current economic development already compromising our future because we are using up resources way too quickly and with countries like China India and Brazil all with massive populations rapidly catching up with the developed western countries the problem is set to get even worse.
If one thinks back they will realize that scientists have since the early 1970’s been telling us that we are over drawn at the bank of Earth’s Resources. We take out far more than the earth can provide and with each withdrawal getting larger the consequences of being overdrawn at the bank have begun to show in the wake of climate change, deforestation and species loss to name but a few.
We have been losing our natural Forests at the rate of 30 acres per minute. Over pumping of ground water exceeds the natural recharge rates by 160 billion cubic metres and 70% of fresh water sources are seriously contaminated or degraded. It is expected that by 2025 two thirds of the world’s population will be short of water. In short our planet just cannot keep up with us.
Unfortunately we aren’t listening.
The gap between the rich and poor nations is widening. Rich western nations use 58% of global energy production and own 92% of the world’s private cars but account for just 20% of the population.
It might surprise you to know that there are still 2 billion people living with no household electricity or telephone and the poorest 20% of the world’s population meet their energy needs by cutting down trees more quickly than they plant them.

Wow!

Not to put too fine a point on it then, this means that at our current rate of consumption we are eroding the very fabric of our planet and will ultimately threaten our long term survival. Globally we need to develop an economic system that allows us to use resources sustainably and more fairly though personally I think I might see pigs fly first. While big business has increasing dollar5 signs for ever in its sights we will not see much in the way of change unless we the people make it happen.

Former Un Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in one of his interviews that globalization of the economy implies globalization of responsibility. We are all responsible for our future outcomes. Living sustainably means, being more responsible, for our planets health and well being of both our planets resources and that of our fellow humans. We need to live in a way which meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.
We can all be more sustainable – by switching to renewable electricity suppliers if possible, by consuming less, by being energy efficient and by cutting back on our car use is something I often hear but how practical is that? I may be very practical if you live in a suburban environment where you have access to good public transport but the fact is not all people have good access to reliable public transport. Even so our individual actions can make a difference.
Climate change is happening and is measurable in spite of the occasional voice of dissention from various quarters of the governments.
Our planet is getting warmer. More carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are being released into the atmosphere due to human activities and because of these events our delicate atmospheric balance has been altered or compromised. This means the sun’s heat is absorbed by the planet rather than reflected back into space. Scientists across the world have been saying this is happening for decades and have now reached a consensus that climate change is man - made. Well it isn’t really completely man made as the climate change would alter eventually in any case, however man has hastened these changes.
In 2007 the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) released the Fourth Assessment report on global warming. I wonder how many people have actually read it let alone heard about it? It’s warning was stark; unless we cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere we face dire consequences. In its’ worst case scenario, it was predicted that if we did nothing, the average global temperatures may rise over 6 degrees by 2100. So? I can hear some people saying, It is 100 years away I won’t be her e. Well no you probably won’t be here but your children might and your grandchildren certainly will be.

We can’t stop the climate changes, they are already occurring, temperatures are rising, we are already seeing an increase in storm activity and severity, prolonged droughts and more frequent droughts, flooding and unusual changes in areas not normally affected by such issues. No, we can’t stop it but we can reduce the effects of climate change if we act now and go on a carbon diet. By contrast the Stern report stated that if we spent just 1-3% of the current GDP to combat climate change we could avoid the worst case scenario of effects. Gosh, I must have been born yesterday because even I know that you can’t mess with Mother Nature. We cannot control the weather although we can prepare for the inevitable results of our greed for more and reduce the outcomes of this change.

It is getting hotter and even the most unobservant person in our midst can’t help but notice that spring is coming earlier each year and that winter starts later and is often shorter than it has been in the past. All over the world glaciers and icecaps are retreating or melting. Killimanjaro in Africa – literally means the ‘Mountain of snow’ has lost more than 80% of it’s ice sheet since 1912 and the last snows will probably have gone by 2020.
Recent news from China says that glaciers covering the massive Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are shrinking by a shocking 7% per year. As many Chinese in the area get their drinking water from the annual ice melt once the glaciers are gone millions will be left with no fresh water source.

Sea levels are rising by as much as 3mm per year because of this ice melt and because the seas are getting warmer. This effect is called thermal expansion.

The Arctic and the Antarctic are beginning to recede and this process is speeding up. Many polar scientists now believe that before the end of this current century the Arctic ice cap will melt entirely during the summer months. Rising sea levels will threaten low lying countries such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh, and island states in the Pacific like Tuvulu will be swamped by the sea and lost while cities like New York and London are also under threat.
Droughts are on the increase and anyone living here in Australia will know that much of Australia’s prime farm producing areas have been hit by some of the worst droughts to hit here in 100 years. The reserve bank of Australia has predicted that drought will slow economic growth as a result of a drop in farming output with annual economic growth falling from 1.9% to 1.15%. Well, this hasn’t actually proven to be the case as yet largely due to the boom in Western Australia’s resource sector propping up the rest of the country although as we progress through the year, the signs of our economy slowing down is becoming more evident.
Along with the increased drought there has been an increase in severe rains and flooding due to heavier than normal rainfall as climate variations become more pronounced. Heat waves have become more extreme as was evidenced with the 2003 heat wave which hit across Europe and which was directly responsible for nearly 30,000 deaths.
As the seas have warmed up we have also seen an increase in hurricane activity with these events becoming more frequent and more violent. The effect of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 was catastrophic and there are still something like half a million climate refugees unable to return to that city. The total cost of damage has been estimated to be over 80 billion dollars.
It is so frustrating reading articles relating to our changing environment particularly when on the whole we have such misleading information to wade through. These events are occurring so that in itself isn’t misleading, what is misleading is that on the whole we seem to have this apathy for action.

Pert Two:

So what we can do about it as individuals? What is your ecological footprint and how do we go about finding out how large it is?
An ecological footprint is the measure of how much /earth’s natural resources are used in all our activities. It can apply to an individual, a community or a country. The foot print adds up all the resources we consume like land, food, water, oil and timber and how much waste and pollution we make. The larger our foot print the larger our impact on the earth’s resources.
Whether you drive or cycle to work, live off take-aways or support your local farmers market, compost your waste or ignore recycling, your lifestyle choices influence the size of your foot print.

Environmental scientists have estimated that the average global foot print for an individual is 5.45gha (global hectares). At this rate of use it is expected that we will need an area the size of 3 planes to supply all the resources we need to survive. This is the only planet we have so this means we need to reduce our individual footprints to 1.8gha. If everyone does this then we could live well with in the means of our planet.
No one expects lifestyle changes to be made over night as that just isn’t practical but we are all going to have to make changes.
While we do need policy changes from with in the government to tackle the larger issues we can make changes to our own behavior that will put us on the path to sustainable living. The key things to bear in mind are to consume less and to become more energy and resource efficient. We need to start with a series of small steps to break our unsustainable habits and make us think about resources in a more sustainable way. Like baby steps the smaller steps will progress to larger steps over time.

- Turn off the tap when you clean your teeth. You don’t need to run the water while you are brushing. The amount you save wil be small but will add up over
time.
- Bin the plastic bag. Next time you go shopping take your own carrier bag and refuse the ones offered at the check out.
- Turn your heating down by 1 degree, you won’t really notice the difference but you will save energy and reduce your bill.
- Boil less water in the kettle. Next time you make a cuppa don’t fill it to the top but instead only boil the amount you actually will use/need. It’s much
quicker as well.
- Start a compost heap, all your organic waste can be composted either in the garden, a special compost bin or a worm farm. Composting your garden also
promotes the water retention ability of your garden.
- Turn off all electronic equipment like tv’s videos, dvd’s and other appliances with standby modes. Recycle more, you may already be recycling your bottles
or newspapers but there is so much more that can be recycled such as clothes, books, furniture, toys etc. These can be given to charity shops, sold or
given away.
- Walk rather than drive on short trips. Next time you have to go somewhere that is less than a kilometer away, walk there. It is healthier, cheaper and
probably not that much slower by the time your gotten past the traffic delays and found parking and it reduces your carbon foot print immediately.
- Flush less, if you put a water saver on your cistern you will save 3 litres of water per flush or around 6,000 litres per year per person. You could do the
same thing by putting a brick in your cistern.
- Buy planet friendly bio degradable detergents and other cleaning products for the laundry, bathroom, kitchen, dish washer and even the toilet.
- Hang your clothes out to dry and try to stop using the tumble dryer. You will save both energy and money and your clothes will smell fresher to.
- Buy energy saving light bulbs and replace your most often used conventional ones. It costs a little more up front but does have over all energy savings of
up to 75% over a year.

Buy organic foods in season and locally produced because in food miles less energy is used to get it to your table. However buying organic is not a cheap option as while they also tell us that environmentally organic food production requires less energy than conventional foods do to produce because they are not as energy intensive with pesticides and fertilizers, organic foods require a higher input in physical labour and we all know that labour costs are high. The very best option if available is to grow your own organic food or support your local farmers market.

Reduce your food miles by avoiding buying food that has been air freighted and buy only local regional foods or again, grow your own.

Reduce pesticide pollution.
Think globally, if you are buying foreign produce check for the fair trade mark as it insures the farmers and workers have been given a fair deal.

Buy only fish that is MSC certified to make sure it has come from a well managed fish farm and has not come from over fishing.
Purchase free range dairy, eggs and meat and if you can’t find any ask your local store to stock some.

You can make a difference. Concern about carbon dioxide emissions rom power stations which burn fossil fuels to produce electricity is leading to a demand for cleaner sources of energy such as that produced by solar, wind and to a lesser extent in ‘Australia, tidal. There are now several utility companies providing electricity produced from renewable sources and switching companies is slowly becoming moe available.
Apart from switching to renewable and sustainable energy generation we also need to cut down on the amount of energy we use and the amount we waste. We need to become more energy efficient.

Make sure your house is well insulated and that you are using energy efficient appliances as this can have a dramatic effect on your footprint. Use eco friendly and sustainable materials when building from new, renovating or decorating. These kinds of materials minimize the energy used to produce them and come from sustainable and renewable resources.
Always look out for FSC certified wood products as this means the timber is from a sustainable source and where ever possible use recycled or salvaged products.

Fill in holes – around 33% of heat lost in your home is through walls so insulating them can be the most cost effective way to save energy in the home.

Regularly check your fridge and freezer seals, poorly fitting seals means your fridge uses moe energy to remain cold. Regularly defrost your freezer and don’t leave the door open any longer than necessary.

Reduce – try to purchase products that are lose rather than prepackaged.

Repair broken items rather than throwing them out. Remember that things you no longer need could be used by others.

We can make a difference if we all take small steps to make changes in our day to day lives.

In the modern world today we are so used to going where we want when we want that we don’t stop to think about the consequences of our journeys. If we only but take a few minutes to consider our pathways we will see that with a little fore thought though, small changes we are able to make will develop into new habits that will ensure a better more sustainable future for us all.

Apathy is the largest road block to change along with the belief that any change we the individual can make will be like throwing a penny into the ocean and then trying to find it again. Great things can come from smaller ones. All we need to do is think about it then act.

I hope that if nothing else this article will open up the thought processes of those that take the time to read it so we can discuss other stategies to improve our corner of the environment starting with where we live.

Cheers
Kathleen

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